Arm Chair Academics Cause SL To Lose Tech. Race

A PhD qualification doesn’t necessarily make one a good engineer, but experience will.
A.D.V.Nihal Kularatne, senior lecturer, Engineering School, Waikato University, New Zealand, speaking at the Institution of Engineers, Colombo on Tuesday alleged that what local engineers generally lacked was practical experience.
“More often than not, our engineers sit on a chair and expect their subordinates to do the job; but that’s not so in theWest,” he said. Kularatne, who himself has only a BSc in electrical engineering from Peradeniya University, said that however was not a drawback as his research works have had been published in international scientific journals, which was sufficient to take him forward.
Additionally, some of his works have had also secured US patents.
He said that it were brains and not PhDs that were needed to make innovations. And the West recognised this truth. “If the rest of the world appreciates your works, that’s a good benchmark,” said Kularatne.
“PhDs help you to organise, the rest comes from your brainpower,” he said. Technology qualification is only a starting point.
“In the West, the undergraduates are customers, because if you don’t perform, you leave the job,” said Kularatne.
“In the new millennium, technology is identified as a wealth creator,” he added. Companies such as Intel are worth trillions of dollars (according to the internet, Intel’s market capitalisation was US$ 131 billion) because of the need for computers and not primary needs like food.
“Technology doesn’t reside in boxes (laptops, etc.), technology resides in the brain of the expert,” he said.
In the West what matters is your experience that could be applied to problem solving, said Kularatne.
Despite having only a BSc, but, because of his internationally accepted research works, he had even held the post of Professor of the Open University in Sri Lanka, before migrating to New Zealand in 2002. “It was because my writings had been published in international journals that I was able to secure a job in New Zealand,” said Kularatne.
In the West, Middle East and Far East, skilled people are employable, qualifications are an added advantage, he said. “Common sense is the important creator that we tend to forget.”
He further said that ICT is not only software engineering, but also included hardware and other related fields. This was in the context of the hype in software exports currently generated in the island and whiche hype is led by both the Government and the private sector.
Kularatne further said that Sri Lanka missed the bus 20 years ago in the field pertaining to the manufacture of the highly sophisticated semi-conductors, a sector dominated by countries such as USA, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea, not due to politicians, but due to arm chair academics.
He said that it was John Robinson, one of three pioneers at Bell Labs, responsible for the manufacture of the transistor in 1948 which started the ICT revolution, who had told him that if one cannot summarise one’s scientific work on the reverse of a business card, then, never to proceed in such a venture.
Kularatne also paid tribute to the late Sir Arthur C. Clarke, who, in 1993, had written a foreward to one of his works, even before he had written his findings, and, which were due to be sent to the Institute of Electrical Engineers, London (IEE) for publication, which had impressed IEE, who also knew Clarke.

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